Nancy Jane Cooper, or “Aunt Nancy” as everyone called her, was a spunky and fiercely independent woman who lived to be 101. She was born in August of 1861, the daughter of John Cooper and Jane Lytle Lowman of Winfield Township, Butler County.
Aunt Nancy’s grandfather, Samuel Cooper, built Cooper Cabin Pioneer Homestead in the early 1800s using hand-hewn logs; a later edition utilized logs from a water-powered sawmill. The cabin was built on the Depreciation Lands, located north of Pittsburgh between the Allegheny and Ohio River. The Depreciation Lands were set aside in 1783 by the Pennsylvania legislature as pay for Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary War Veterans. As their family grew , they added the spinning house and various utility buildings to the property to provide for their eight children. For many years, the Knox Chapel M. E. Church held meetings in the family cabin.
Nancy married John Armstrong Stepp on November 17, 1880, and in 1881 they had a daughter named Alice. However, Nancy Cooper Stepp wanted a divorce. It was rare and difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce in the 1880s, but Nancy walked the fifteen miles to the Butler County Courthouse and succeeded in taking back her maiden name. Nancy remained unmarried and settled in her family’s homestead.
When her father died in 1883, he left his farm to Nancy and her two half-sisters. In 1903, Nancy purchased 37 acres from her half-sister Margaret for the price of $1. Her purchase allowed her to remain in the cabin until the last few months of her life. Aside from the addition of a side room built by Nancy’s grandfather during the Civil War, the structure of the cabin remained unchanged. Nancy made a number of small improvements to her quaint cabin over the years. She covered the structure with tar paper to protect the chinking, white washed the walls, and added wallpaper.
Nancy declined the luxuries of modern society such as running water and electricity, though she enjoyed the company provided by her television and radio set. It wasn’t until 1959 that electricity was installed. Prior to this, Nancy stored food and collected water at the spring house located on the property While Nancy eventually grew accustomed to her refrigerator and hot plate, she disapproved of the two light bulbs installed in her house, which reportedly bothered her eyes. She preferred to live by kerosene lamp. According to her heir, reverend Paul Muder, the last person to be born in the cabin, “What the family members could not make or grow, for the most part they did not have.” Nancy was known for her beautiful flowers, and she took great pride in her garden.
In a conversation with The Butler Eagle, her great-nephew’s wife, Lena, said that Aunt Nancy “wasn’t quite 100 when, one day, she took a rope bed and pulled it down the stairs and drug it outside and set it on fire.” Lena was taken aback at the historical artifact that quite literally just went up in flames and when she questioned Aunt Nancy, she responded, “Well, it was so uncomfortable that nobody else is ever going to sleep on it.”
On January 9th, 1963, Nancy passed away just a few months short of her 102nd birthday. She is buried one mile from her beloved log cabin in Hannahstown Cemetery. Aunt Nancy was the last of five generations to have lived in the cabin. Her grandson, Rev. Paul Muder, donated the two-century-old cabin to the Butler County Historical Society, who restored it and continues to maintain it today. In an article from the Butler Eagle, Nancy’s family explain how fortunate it was that the Historical Society was able to take over the cabin as Aunt Nancy’s wish for the cabin was for it “to be burned to the ground after her death so it would not be seen deteriorating.”